The presidents of Czechoslovakia and West Germany stood side by side with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim today to open the annual Salzburg music festival and symbolically end four years of diplomatic isolation for the Austrian leader.
But Czechoslovakia’s Vaclav Havel, in an apparent reference to Waldheim’s long-concealed Nazi past, lashed out at “falsifiers of history” who he said “do not protect the freedom of the nation but threaten it.”
“The belief that it is possible to sinuously traverse history with impunity and to rewrite one’s own biography is one of the traditional Central European errors,” Havel said in a speech opening the internationally acclaimed music festival.
Waldheim has been shunned by Western governments and barred from entering the United States because of revelations about his World War II record as an intelligence officer for the German Wermacht.
While serving in Yugoslavia he was assigned to a unit that allegedly killed innocent civilians in the Balkans and shipped more than 40,000 Greek Jews to death camps.
Waldheim has denied any wrongdoing and maintains he was merely a translator and had no knowledge of the alleged atrocities. In an autobiography before his 1986 election, he largely omitted details of his military career.
Havel and West German President Richard von Weizsaecker agreed to the unofficial meeting with Waldheim despite heavy criticism at home and abroad.
The three leaders stood side by side in Salzburg’s Felsreitschule festival hall, smiling and joking at ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the festival.
Waldheim showed no emotion during Havel’s speech but after the ceremony the two leaders did not speak as they filed out of the auditorium. No private talks between the two men were held and Havel met only briefly with Austrian Prime Minister Franz Vranitzky before returning to Prague.
Von Weizsaecker and Havel were first introduced outside the building but their meeting was disrupted when three men wearing Jewish yarmulkes began shouting at them in English, saying Havel should be ashamed for meeting Weizsaecker.
Havel and Von Weizsaecker, among the first democratically elected leaders to meet Waldheim since his 1986 election, drew thunderous applause when they were introduced to the black-tie crowd.
Waldheim, in brief remarks before Havel’s speech, made no reference to the controversy but termed the festival “a symbol of Europe, its new wholeness and greatness.”
Havel, who was invited to the festival a year ago when he was still a dissident playwright, said earlier he intended to go to Salzburg as a private citizen and author, not as a representative of the Czechoslovak people.